Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act

Mr. President, I am pleased to join with my friend from California, Senator Feinstein, in introducing the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2013.  It is identical to the bill that she and I have introduced in prior years, and I commend her for her persistence on this important humanitarian issue.   

I come to this issue having devoted much effort over many years to shining a spotlight on and doing what can be done to help innocent victims of war.  In the last century, and continuing into this new century, noncombatants increasingly have borne the brunt of the casualties in armed conflicts across the globe.  Limiting the use of weapons that are inherently indiscriminate, such as landmines, and that have indiscriminate effects, such as cluster munitions, are tangible, practical, meaningful things we can do to reduce these unnecessary casualties.

Cluster munitions, like any weapon, have some military utility.  But anyone who has seen the indiscriminate devastation that cluster munitions cause over wide areas understands the unacceptable threat they pose to noncombatants.  These are not the laser guided weapons the Pentagon showed destroying their targets during the invasion of Baghdad.  To the contrary.  Cluster munitions can kill and maim anyone within the 360 degree range of flying shrapnel. 

And there is the horrific problem of cluster munitions that fail to explode as designed and remain as active duds, like landmines, until they are triggered by whoever comes into contact with them.  Often it is an unsuspecting child, or a farmer.  

Even now, in Laos today people are still being killed and maimed by millions of U.S. cluster munitions left from the 1970s.  That legacy, resulting from years of secret bombing of a peaceful, agrarian people who posed no threat to the United States, contaminated more than a third of Laos’ agricultural land and cost countless innocent lives.  It is shameful that we have contributed less in the past 35 years to clean up these deadly remnants of war than we spent in a few days of bombing.

Current law prohibits U.S. sales, exports and transfers of cluster munitions that have a failure rate exceeding 1 percent.  The law also requires any sale, export or transfer agreement to include a requirement that the cluster munitions will be used only against military targets. 

The Pentagon continues to insist that the United States should retain the ability to use millions of cluster munitions in its arsenal which have estimated failure rates of 5 to 20 percent.  It has pledged to meet the 1 percent failure rate for U.S. use of cluster munitions in 2018. 

Like Senator Feinstein I reject the notion that the United States can justify using antiquated weapons that so often fail, so often kill and injure innocent people including children, and which many of our allies have renounced.  That is not the kind of leadership the world needs and expects from the United States.  If we have learned anything from Afghanistan it is that harming civilians, even unintentionally, creates enemies among those whose support we need, and undermines the mission of our troops.

Senator Feinstein’s and my bill would apply the 1 percent failure rate to U.S. use of cluster munitions beginning on the date of enactment.  However, our bill permits the President to waive the 1 percent requirement if the President certifies that it is vital to protect the security of the United States.  I would hope the Pentagon would recognize that this is in its best interest, and will work with us by supporting this reasonable step.

Since December 3, 2008, when the Convention on Cluster Munitions opened for signature in Dublin, at least 111 countries have signed the treaty including Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Norway, Australia and other allies of the United States.  However, the Bush Administration did not participate in the negotiations that culminated in the treaty, and the Obama Administration has not signed it.    

Some have dismissed the Cluster Munitions Convention as a pointless exercise, since it does not yet have the support of the United States and other major powers such as Russia, China, Pakistan, India and Israel.  These are some of the same critics of the Ottawa treaty banning antipersonnel landmines, which the United States and the other countries I named have also refused to sign.  But that treaty has dramatically reduced the number of landmines produced, used, sold, and stockpiled – and the number of mine victims has fallen sharply.  Any government that contemplates using landmines today does so knowing that it will be condemned by the international community.  I suspect it is only a matter of time before the same is true for cluster munitions.

It is important to note that the United States today has the technological ability to produce cluster munitions that meet the requirements of our bill, as well as of the treaty.  What is lacking is the political will to act.  There is no excuse for continuing to use cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.   

I urge the Obama Administration to review its policy on cluster munitions and put the United States on a path to join the treaty as soon as possible.  In the meantime, our legislation would be an important step in the right direction.    

I want again to thank and commend Senator Feinstein, who has shown such passion and steadfastness in raising this issue and seeking every opportunity to protect civilians from these indiscriminate weapons. 

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